It’s about twenty to four on a Sunday afternoon. Having spent an hour in Boots frantically but unsuccessfully searching for what I need, I am now in my local pharmacy. This pharmacy stocks literally every product under the sun and is open seven days a week till ten p.m. Do you have a minor skin ailment on the underside of your left knee-cap at certain times during the month? This pharmacy has a multitude of creams and lotions for it. Do you find that your child resolutely only speaks German whenever your second cousin comes round? The person behind the counter will prescribe you something, trust me. I’m taking my time, sidling around the shop, looking extremely casually through every shelf. Then I find what I’m looking for. The contraception section has, very cunningly, or so I think, been shelved next to the oral hygiene section. ‘Aha!’ I say to myself (silently)’. Someone here has a warped sense of humour, and has slid the dental dams in next to the condoms, but on the oral shelf. Brilliant.
But no such luck. Condoms and lube give way to dental floss and toothbrushes. Not a sneakily placed packet of dental dams in sight. After looking intently at hairbrushes for at least five minutes to placate the multitude of people in the shop judging me during my contraception contemplation, I finally pluck up the courage to talk to the lady behind the counter.
‘Excuse me’, I shout awkwardly, ‘do you stock dental dams?’ Unfortunately the operative ‘dental dams’ bit of the sentence comes out in a strangled whisper so I have to repeat it several times, like, ‘what?’, ‘dental dams’, ‘what?’, ‘dental dams?’, what??’ DENTAL DAMS??!’. It’s a bit like that scene in every sketch show where the protagonist of the sketch deliberately doesn’t hear what someone is quite obviously saying in order to embarrass and frustrate them. The woman stares at me like I’m a bleeding idiot and gets another chemist out from behind the medicines section to deal with me.
So I have to ask again: ‘do you stock any dental dams?’
‘Dental floss?’ he asks, pointing to the dental floss in case I am unclear on what it is.
‘No, dental dams,’ I reiterate.
‘What is it for?’ he asks me, and at this point the feminist conviction that I should be completely comfortable talking to anyone and everyone about sex and sexuality is starting to lose out in my mind against the instinct to run away and forget this ever happened.
Like an immature thirteen year old, I mutter, ‘for contraception’. (Even though strictly speaking they are not contraceptive but prophylactic, I know. Maybe this is where I went wrong.)
‘Contraceptive pill?’ he asks.
‘No, dental dam.’
Firstly, I’m not exaggerating this conversation. It genuinely took place without recourse to verbs or adjectives. Also, my simple request has now caused enough consternation that the chemist gets another chemist out from the medicines section, and together they start debating the merits of dental floss as contraception in a low whisper that somehow manages to highlight to me the flashing ‘DOC MARTINS WEARING DYKE REQUESTS PERVERSE ORAL SEX PROTECTION MECHANISM’ sign above my head. As if I hadn’t noticed it the minute I started talking about dental dams in public. The chemists go back behind the counter and beckon me to follow them to a computer upon which they are presumably looking up what a dental dam is. They’re looking at the computer and I’m on the other side. The kinds of websites that might be coming up are running through my mind and I’m trying desperately to keep a straight face as if this is completely routine and normal.
After about five minutes the first chemist looks up and says, ‘dental…can you spell it?’
‘D, E, N, T, A, L, you know, like dental, that well known thing that you stock many products for, D, A, M. Like a dam. D for dog, A for apple, M for Mother. For contraception.’ An eternity seems to go by as the chemists stare at the screen. I can’t tell whether I’m making it up but the one on the left seems to be trying not to laugh. I imagine them looking at pornographic pictures of straight-man’s-lesbians using dental dams in various ways upon each other. I’m trying not to laugh/cry in sheer horror at a situation in which asking for what should be a pretty routine prophylactic turns into the equivalent of me walking into a shop full of people and shouting ‘I AM A LESBIAN! SHOULD I GET INTO A SEXUAL SITUATION I WOULD LIKE TO PROTECT MYSELF AND OTHERS FROM ORALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES! PLEASE ENABLE ME TO DO THIS! OH BY THE WAY I AM A LESBIAN!’
Anyway in the end the first chemist looks up, and says in a faux-conspiratorial tone, ‘I think I can get the thing you want. Call us tomorrow.’ As if we’re in a B-movie drugs heist. So I leave the shop with as much dignity and grace as I can muster. I’m not going back.
But the point of this piece is, apart from to detail both the acute embarrassment I felt in asking for dental dams and the unbelievable level of ignorance that my request was met with, actually surely it isn’t just lesbians who need to use them? Presumably anybody who is buying condoms needs also to buy dams, or customize their condoms and then put them back in the little packets for future reference, in order to up the old safety levels? Why aren’t people using them, and given that my internet research tells me that increasingly people are, why aren’t they stocked in chemists? I’m pretty sure that this shouldn’t be as fringe a thing as it seems to be, and despite the fact that covering your partner’s genitalia with a latex rectangle is probably quite unsexy for most non-fetishists, the equally vile condoms seem to have caught on. So why not dams? Answers on a bit of plastic, please.
Originally posted at http://raytherah.blogspot.com